I recently finished the first Aussie novel I’ve ever read, Tim Winton‘s Breath. Though it works within a frame of a middle-aged paramedic recalling his life, it’s mostly a Bildungsroman centered on extreme surfing in the `70s. Lots of hip, daring people chasing down hip, daring dreams as a means of self-discovery. But it’s far better than that summation makes it sound, and thanks to a fairly haunting opening with a teen’s accidental suicide during autoerotic asphyxiation, and hints of darker moments to come later in the novel, there’s a far more serious undertone (or undertow?) than the surfer narrative would at first suggest.
In terms of style, the book at first reminded me of some kind of bizarre hybrid of Chuck Palahniuk and Kazuo Ishiguro, as though the self-appointed king of late-`90s hyper-masculine hipness had been tasked with writing Never Let Me Go — or vice versa. You wouldn’t think such divergent voices could operate in the same book, but Winton’s style (which rapidly shucked my initial associations to become Winton’s alone) expertly balances a strong, masculine voice with tender reminiscence, and it makes for beautiful reading. His passages describing the West Coast of Australia and the exhilaration of surfing are particularly well written.
There’s something about the pace that feels a bit off, and what is supposed to be the big revelation and climactic moment in the novel feel too far removed from the hints that were meant to prepare us for it. And the last lines feel a bit forced, as though Winton felt the need in the final paragraph to overtly spell out some Grand Theme for the novel even though he’d already done a fantastic job of suggesting that theme throughout the book, even from the first pages.
Still, it’s a great read, and I will definitely be picking up more Winton in the future. Also, when I looked up a bit about the man, I was thrilled to discover how much he supports young writers, including lending his name to the Tim Winton Young Writers Award for kids in Perth.
For more on what I’m currently reading, check out my Bookshelf.